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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Supreme Court says states may disclose petition signatories

from OMB Watch -- On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that states may publicly disclose referendum petition signatures. The case, Doe v. Reed, centers on the public's right to know who signed petitions related to Referendum 71, a 2009 attempt to overturn Washington State’s expanded domestic partner law, which gives gay and lesbian couples the same rights as married couples.

The State of Washington argued that the names of petition signatories should be disclosed upon request, as required by the state's Public Records Act. It further argued that such disclosure helps to sort out whether fraudulent signatures were included on petitions to reach the required number of signatories to qualify an initiative or referendum for the ballot.

The plaintiffs, who included several individual citizens and an anti-gay political action committee, argued that a constitutional right to anonymity for petition signatories always exists. They also argued that even if the Court does not recognize a broad constitutional right, it should recognize that a right exists in this particular case due to the harassment and abuse to which the petition signatories could possibly be exposed...

The Court did not find that a constitutional right to anonymity for petition signatories always exists. Rather, it held that the law permits disclosure of petition signatories. "Such disclosure does not, as a general matter, violate the First Amendment," wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the Court’s majority opinion.

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